How Ce­line Dion is fash­ion­ing a new life af­ter dou­ble tragedy

Last year, the su­per­star singer lost her hus­band whom she had known since she was 12 years old. In an ef­fort to re­build her life she has thrown her­self into the cre­ation of a new im­age and, in do­ing so, has be­come the dar­ling of the fash­ion world, writes

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - REPORTAGE -

There was just one con­di­tion Ce­line Dion laid down to Vogue mag­a­zine be­fore agree­ing to pose in cou­ture for a video made for its In­sta­gram ac­count at this year’s Paris Cou­ture Week: “I want to be treated like a model.” And what a video it turned out to be. The footage of Ce­line Dion set the in­ter­net on fire, with the hash­tag #Ce­lineTakesCou­ture.

Draped in the most elab­o­rate, ex­pen­sive clothes in the world, Dion pea­cocks in what can only be de­scribed as a meta take on po-faced high-fash­ion — strik­ing poses and throw­ing dances moves, all with the ut­most se­ri­ous­ness.

In some­one re­motely self-con­scious, it would have been ut­terly ridicu­lous. From Dion, a woman who has so thor­oughly earned her pro­fes­sional stripes, and who, in the act of re­build­ing her­self af­ter the loss of her hus­band, Rene An­gelil, so clearly couldn’t give a toss about any­one else’s opin­ion; it was a one-woman tour de force.

Ce­line Dion, in case you haven’t heard, is hav­ing a fash­ion mo­ment.

It started last summer with a sub­tle but note­wor­thy shot across the bows, with Dion step­ping out in a hoodie from Vete­ments, which is cur­rently the coolest la­bel amongst the fash­ion set.

The $885 hoodie, fea­tur­ing a picture of Kate and Leo as Rose and Jack in Ti­tanic, had al­ready sold out so her stylist bor­rowed it from the la­bel’s archives — Dion laugh­ingly lamented that she had to re­turn it af­ter­wards.

The fash­ion world sat up and took note of this de­par­ture from Dion’s usual sar­to­rial of­fer­ings, which in lat­ter years have segued gen­tly into bland and taste­ful for off-duty; soft tai­lor­ing, leather trousers.

Her mother told her later the hoodie was far too big for her — “she did not un­der­stand it was cool”, Dion, who wore it with skinny jeans and gold Gucci san­dals, said with a smile.

Dion was at­tend­ing Paris Cou­ture Week, when she was spot­ted in the front row be­side Anna Win­tour, giv­ing dou­ble thumbs up, lone stand­ing ova­tions, and shout­ing bravo, an un­abashed show of en­thu­si­asm that was no doubt deemed ‘so not fash­ion, dar­ling’, but does Dion care?

Paris Vogue hailed Dion’s new fash­ion cred­i­bil­ity. She be­gan to wear the hottest la­bels — Off-White by Kanye’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, and was the first celebrity to wear the de­signs of Ba­len­ci­aga’s new cre­ative di­rec­tor, Demna Gvasalia. She at­tended her first Met Ball Gala, ap­peared al­most naked in an im­age on Vogue’s In­sta­gram ac­count, and there was talk of her cre­at­ing an ac­ces­sories line (a life­style brand is planned for later this year, an ac­ces­sories line has just launched).

Her 2017 ap­pear­ance at the Bill­board Mu­sic Awards, wear­ing a cou­ture dress by Stephane Rol­land, with huge winged sleeves, and singing My Heart Will Go On, caused an instant sen­sa­tion. Drake, Ri­hanna’s ex, told her back­stage that he was plan­ning a Ce­line Dion tat­too. This summer she re­turned in tri­umph to Paris Cou­ture Week, and the mak­ing of the afore­men­tioned videos.

These videos cap­ture the essence of Ce­line Dion’s re­birth. This is not a cyn­i­cal mar­ket­ing at­tempt to re­brand as cool in or­der to breathe some life into a flag­ging ca­reer. Dion’s ca­reer is nowhere near flag­ging; her lat­est al­bum, Encore un soir, was only out­sold by Drake, Bey­once and Frank Ocean in its open­ing week. And con­stant re­brand­ing has never been her thing. Nei­ther is it an ef­fort to drum up at­ten­tion in the lead-up to launch­ing her own ac­ces­sories line — pranc­ing around in cou­ture is un­likely to help drum up sales of her hand­bags, pub­lic­ity shots of Dion for that col­lec­tion would sug­gest she is aim­ing at a much more vanilla audience for her own de­signs. This isn’t a woman des­per­ately seek­ing any­one’s at­ten­tion. It is a woman slowly com­ing to life af­ter one of the worst losses any­one can suf­fer, that of a beloved spouse whom, in this case, Dion, now 49, had known since the age of 12. This is a woman try­ing to breathe joy into her life again.

Un­til now, Dion’s big­gest fash­ion mo­ment has been her no­to­ri­ous ap­pear­ance at the Os­cars in 1999, when she won the award for My Heart Will Go On from the movie Ti­tanic. She fa­mously wore a white Dior suit with back­wards jacket, fe­dora hat and sun­glasses, de­signed by John Gal­liano. It was an out­fit that was uni­ver­sally lam­basted. Asked about it in an in­ter­view in 2007, never one to take her­self too se­ri­ously, Dion said she would wear it again if she had a do-over, re­flect­ing that she had wanted to play a trick at a more re­cent Os­cars cer­e­mony, and wear it with the jacket fac­ing for­ward.

In­deed, Dion has been a long-time wearer of cou­ture; buy­ing it and hav­ing it adapted for her stage per­for­mance re­quire­ments. She has in the past ex­pressed dis­taste for the cul­ture of celebri­ties walk­ing the red car­pet in bor­rowed clothes and jew­ellery, plug­ging the de­sign­ers to whom they are be­holden. Dion, it would seem, is no­body’s clotheshorse, but that rare thing, a celebrity who hap­pily pays for their own clothes. “I can pay for my own di­a­monds... if no­body wants to dress me be­cause they want pub­lic­ity, well, I’m sorry,” she has said in the past

Com­ing as she does from a gen­er­a­tion of fe­male stars for whom con­stant re­brand­ing of one­self seems to come with the ter­ri­tory — Madonna, Whit­ney, JLo — it is as­ton­ish­ing that this is her first ma­jor im­age over­haul. It speaks of a se­cu­rity rare in her in­dus­try.

When An­gelil was alive, Dion never dressed as a tro­phy wife, em­pha­sis­ing her youth and glam­our. She never needed to. She was no man’s tro­phy; this was a true love match. If any­thing, her im­age was al­ways that of a woman older than her years. Pos­si­bly it was a sub­con­scious ef­fort to down­play the rather large age gap be­tween her and her hus­band.

“I’m very com­fort­able in my skin, even though it’s peel­ing,” she once light-heart­edly told a jour­nal­ist, point­ing out a patch of sun­burn on her leg. “When I look at my­self in the past, I get very emo­tional. I worked re­ally hard, and I sur­passed my­self... I didn’t have, vis­ually, what it took. I was not pretty, I had teeth prob­lems, and I was very skinny. I didn’t fit the mould.” Bar some dra­matic den­tal work, there hasn’t been any no­tice­able sur­gi­cal re­con­struc­tion, and while nat­u­rally slim, she has re­sisted any sort of gru­elling youth-chas­ing phys­i­cal regime.

In­stead, she has dis­played a quiet con­fi­dence over the years. It’s a con­fi­dence that comes with the kind of pro­fes­sional dom­i­nance she has ex­pe­ri­enced, and the lov­ing fam­ily back­ground, but prob­a­bly most im­por­tantly, the al­most life­time of sup­port from her hus­band, Rene An­gelil, who passed away in Jan­uary 2016. An­gelil died af­ter a long bat­tle with cancer, with Dion spend­ing the last year of his life largely by his side, can­celling all work com­mit­ments.

The pair met when she was 12, even­tu­ally mar­ry­ing in 1994. She would re­fer to him as “the only boyfriend I ever had”. They had be­gun a se­cret af­fair seven years af­ter first meet­ing, when Dion was 19, wait­ing five years be­fore re­veal­ing the re­la­tion­ship to the pub­lic, fear­ful of re­ac­tions to their 26year age gap.

Ini­tially, Dion’s mother op­posed the mar­riage, both due to the dif­fer­ence in age, and the fact that An­gelil al­ready had three chil­dren from two previous mar­riages.

“I have to say that for my mom he was not prince charm­ing — the ideal prince charm­ing. It was very dif­fi­cult,” she later re­called.

Dion first came to her fu­ture hus­band’s at­ten­tion when she sent him tapes of her singing. Dion was the youngest of 14 sib­lings who grew up in ru­ral Que­bec, both par­ents were mu­si­cians and the fam­ily per­formed to­gether at week­ends. An­gelil agreed to man­age her if he could have com­plete con­trol of her ca­reer — and re-mort­gaged his house to fund her first al­bum.

By the mid-1980s, Ce­line Dion was a star in Canada and in 1988, her in­ter­na­tional break came when she won Euro­vi­sion for Switzer­land in Dublin. The pair first be­came par­ents in 2001, when af­ter IVF treat­ment, Rene-Charles was born. She re­turned to the lime­light in 2002, with her first res­i­dency in

Las Ve­gas, per­form­ing a 90-minute show five times a week in a 4,000-seat arena de­signed espe­cially for her. Im­pres­sively, there were five years of sell-out shows. In 2009, Dion suf­fered a mis­car­riage, and the next year the cou­ple em­barked on sev­eral gru­elling rounds of IVF. Af­ter the fifth at­tempt, she suc­cess­fully be­came preg­nant at the age of 42, and had twin boys. Eddy and Nel­son, named af­ter pro­ducer Eddy Mar­nay and Nel­son Man­dela, were born in 2010.

Dion put her ca­reer on hold in 2014 when Rene’s ill­ness wors­ened. It was he who per­suaded her to go back to per­form­ing, even though he had re­tired as her man­ager. “I didn’t want to be here at first,” she said in an in­ter­view at the time. “I don’t need it. Don’t get me wrong, I love singing for peo­ple. But I have pri­or­i­ties.” Two days af­ter her hus­band died, her older brother Daniel passed away, also af­ter a pro­tracted bat­tle with cancer.

As­sist­ing Dion in her cur­rent ven­ture is her stylist Law Roach, dis­cov­ered through her younger chil­dren. They are fans of the Dis­ney pro­gramme K.C. Un­der­cover, which stars the 20-year old Zen­daya, an­other client of Roach’s. Dion ad­mired the young star’s red car­pet style and Googled her stylist. A call to Roach en­sued. “My first words were Ce­line who?” he re­called. “I don’t think I had dreamt that big of a dream. That this leg­end, this woman who we’ve all grown up to her mu­sic, that’s been around for 30 years, was call­ing me to work with me.”

The pair met at the Bill­board Awards in May 2016 to dis­cuss plans. The next day she in­vited him to move to Paris for a month. He has been with her ever since.

“Ce­line has no fear,” Roach, who refers to him­self as an ‘im­age ar­chi­tect’, said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “And when you have that type of en­ergy, you have this at­ti­tude that we can do what­ever we want and we don’t care who likes it or dis­likes it.”

It’s the rea­son Ce­line Dion has sud­denly be­come so com­pelling. She’s not try­ing to sell us some­thing. And she clearly couldn’t care less about the mock­ers. Such con­fi­dence can only be at­trac­tive. Maybe also in some small way, her new fash­ion dal­liance is a sort of ar­mour, a way of al­low­ing her to go out into the world again and say “yes, yes, I’m fine, let’s get on with it” and po­litely brush aside all the grief ghouls.

She has said she will mourn her hus­band for the rest of her life. But Dion is clearly no vic­tim, and this is a mis­sion state­ment from a woman who wants to get on with liv­ing.

COU­TURE QUEEN: Ce­line Dion on stage and (right) pos­ing for Vogue

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